- 20th Television
- Insider had mental-health professionals who work with couples rate relationships from popular TV shows based on how healthy or unhealthy they are.
- Randall and Beth from “This Is Us” and Jim and Pam from “The Office” scored points for the way they worked together to overcome the kinds of conflict that real couples could be likely to face.
- Couples like Richard and Catherine from “Grey’s Anatomy” and Ray and Abby from “Ray Donovan” have toxic relationships because they don’t trust one another.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Whether it’s a sitcom, drama, or fantasy, many TV shows have at least one compelling romantic relationship.
But not all of these romances – even the aspirational, feel-good ones – are necessarily the kind of story we should hope to emulate in real life. Some normalize unrealistic scenarios, and others even glorify toxic behavior.
We spoke to couples therapists to find out which popular TV couples display a healthy kind of relationship and which pairs seem to be a toxic match.
“This Is Us” pair Randall and Beth have a strong relationship as they handle life’s ups and downs.
- Ron Batzdorff/NBC
Puja T. Parikh, a licensed clinical social worker and board-certified behavior analyst who practices couples therapy in New York City, said she considers Randall (Sterling K. Brown) and Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) to be one of the best pairings on TV.
She said their marriage is realistic in that it is not without conflict and disagreement, yet it still has a strong backbone.
“They argue [and] may not be on the same page at times, but they have each other’s backs when it matters and come together to stand up for their values, commitments, beliefs, and family,” Parikh told Insider. “This relationship shows that they have a strong foundation – trust, unconditional love, support and respect for one another.”
Jim and Pam on “The Office” often handle conflict in a healthy way.
Rachel Elder, a couples therapist and mental-health counselor based in Seattle, Washington, ranked Jim (John Krasinski) and Pam (Jenna Fischer) as her favorite example of a positive TV romance because of the way they navigate through road bumps.
“In relationships, it is important that we are always choosing to turn toward each other rather than away from each other, especially when conflict is involved,” Elder told Insider. “We watch Jim and Pam do this in the last season when Jim discovers the camera guy has a thing for Pam. He wants to leave to go back to Philly and Pam asks him to stay and fight and he does.”
Elder also said it’s great that mutual respect is depicted within their relationship, even when they’re not yet together romantically.
“Jim respects her relationship with Roy even though he thinks he is wrong for her. Pam respects that Jim has chosen Karen even after she cancels her wedding because she realizes she cares for Jim. Mutual respect is needed in a healthy relationship,” Elder told Insider.
Kevin and Veronica from “Shameless” support one another.
Parikh told Insider that Kevin (Steve Howey) and Veronica (Shanola Hampton) aren’t exactly perfect (for example, Kevin proposed to Veronica while he was still secretly married), but they have some major positive hallmarks, proving that healthy relationships can sometimes exist in non-traditional circumstances.
“They support each other and stand by each other no matter what. While it may seem like a very strange relationship in the sense of a traditional couple, they have kind hearts, try to do the right thing, and allow each other to be who they are,” Parikh said.
She also told Insider that this couple has “a strong foundation that includes very direct and clear communication, teamwork that utilizes each other’s strengths to build their business, and genuine love for one another.”
Phil and Claire from “Modern Family” know how to share responsibilities.
- Richard Cartwright/ABC
The “Modern Family” couple Phil (Ty Burrell) and Claire (Julie Bowen) have gone through ups and downs, but their relationship is filled with laughter and kindness, which Parikh said is important for any couple.
“While Phil may be aloof and irritate Claire, at the end of the day they both compliment each other and make each other laugh,” she told Insider.
Parikh said it’s great that the couple has “built a life together that they love and share the responsibilities of” even though they don’t always understand each other.
“Scrubs” couple Turk and Carla may have a seemingly chaotic dynamic, but it works well for them.
This is another pairing that, according to Parikh, should be lauded for its realism.
One thing she appreciates about the relationship between Carla (Judy Reyes) and Turk (Donald Faison) is that it does not mirror the unfortunate and all-too-common power imbalance between couples in medical settings, especially where one is a doctor and the other a nurse.
Rather, Carla, who is a nurse, takes charge when she has to and Turk, who is a doctor, responds to her strength well because he lacks structure.
“They are yin and yang and compliment each other and Turk makes Carla, who otherwise is always serious, laugh and feel good about herself,” Parikh explained.
She said she also likes this pairing for showing that relationships don’t necessarily need to be outwardly affectionate and romantic in order to be healthy and loving.
Rory and Dean from “Gilmore Girls” aren’t perfect, but they seem to really care about one another.
- The WB
Dr. Kendra A. O’Hora, a licensed clinical marriage and family therapist based in Bel Air, Maryland, gave the young couple Rory (Alexis Bledel) and Dean (Jared Padalecki ) fairly high marks.
Though imperfect – they did, after all, have an affair while Dean was still married – these two had a lot of moments when they expressed how much they love and care about each other.
They frequently tried their best (though not always without issue) to communicate their feelings for each other clearly and consider each other’s best interests.
In the follow-up miniseries “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life,” these two are on good terms despite no longer being romantically involved – which is another example of how they care about and respect each other.
Meredith and Derek on “Grey’s Anatomy” had flaws, but they had a fairly stable relationship.
If O’Hora had to rate this couple with a letter grade, she said she would give them a B.
Things started out rocky for Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) and McDreamy (Patrick Dempsey), especially since his first marriage was unresolved when they first hooked up.
Once they worked through the drama, this couple had a pretty good run, demonstrating open-mindedness, the ability to work together, and insight and empathy toward each other.
“As a couple, they thrived on non-traditional ways to express their bond, love, and family connection,” O’Hora told Insider. “For example, their Post-it marriage, adoption of Zola, offering their wedding venue to Izzie and Karev when Izzie was sick, and their long-distance partnership.”
Cam and Mitchell on “Modern Family” have a strong bond and a lot of respect for one another.
Parikh pointed out that even though Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and Cam (Eric Stonestreet) engage in passive-aggressive behaviors at times, they have a strong bond and their relationship is full of love and trust.
“They manage to talk things out without being disrespectful, harsh and unfair,” Parikh said. Plus, their differences in personality create balance within their dynamic.
“Mitch’s calm, organized, and often rigid personality traits complement Cam’s impulsive, dramatic, and disorganized personality,” she told Insider. “They are like the yin and yang of relationships.”
Chuck and Blair from “Gossip Girl” loved each other, but they struggled to handle their own toxic traits.
- Warner Bros. Television
O’Hora said Chuck (Ed Westwick) and Blair (Leighton Meester) aren’t necessarily the worst, but they’re far from being the best couple on TV.
Although they clearly had great insight into each other’s inner workings and often made sacrifices for each other’s sake, Chuck and Blair also display a lot of “underlying baggage and toxicity,” O’Hora told Insider.
Overall, she said she thinks this pair could benefit from attending therapy as individuals, especially to work on their numerous hang-ups and harmful patterns of behavior.
Fred and Serena’s relationship on “The Handmaid’s Tale” suffers from secrets and manipulation.
Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) and Fred (Joseph Fiennes) Waterford may be a power couple, but their marriage is nothing a couples therapist would endorse.
Parikh characterizes this coupling as “toxic and unhealthy” because of passive aggression, lies, and betrayals of trust between the two.
She also said that Fred’s behavior is manipulative, as he needed Serena to further their once-shared political agenda and he increasingly threw her under the bus for it.
“Manipulation is a very big red flag to indicate an unhealthy relationship. There is a desire for power in this relationship, not a true bond. Fear and greed for power guide this relationship,” she told Insider.
Richard and Catherine from “Grey’s Anatomy” don’t trust one another, which is unhealthy in any relationship.
Elder told Insider that she considers the relationship between Catherine (Debbie Allen) and Richard (James Pickens, Jr.) to be a toxic one because they often do not trust each other.
“Catherine does not trust Richard from his past, and Richard seeks out comfort and care constantly from others but his wife,” Elder said. “When Richard tries to be honest with Catherine, she blows him off or chooses her career over supporting her relationship.”
“Relationships without trust and support lead to toxicity and a cycle of despair. Lots of damage is done without many opportunities for repair,” she explained.
Fellow “Grey’s Anatomy” couple Callie and Arizona didn’t work because both partners were overly self-centered.
Parikh said doctors Callie (Sara Ramirez) and Arizona (Jessica Capshaw) have a toxic relationship, even though they had sparks at first.
Rather than bringing them together, their ambitions actually drive them apart.
“They both want to be the best and often do not offer the emotional support the other may need. Furthermore, due to their strong and proud personalities, they refuse to let their partner know they need help,” Parikh said.
She said that the couple’s poor communication and competitive natures and egos make this relationship a tough one to maintain – perhaps it’s not surprising this pair eventually broke up.
Ray and Abby on “Ray Donovan” have too much secrecy and mistrust between them.
Ray (Liev Schreiber) and Abby (Paula Malcomson) may have some history, but their relationship is filled with mistrust.
Parikh said that the secretive, stealthy behavior in this pairing, particularly on Ray’s part, is the fundamental reason this relationship is not a healthy one.
“He often cheated on Abby, emotionally detached from her, and only looked at her as the mother of his children who was there to serve his needs as his wife … and did not reciprocate Abby’s needs,” she said. “The amount of deception in this relationship, abuse, and disrespect cannot allow for a truly open, mutually supportive relationship and connection.”